My Dear Friends in Christ,
Let me begin this update by again expressing my gratitude for your patience, understanding, and support. Navigating this pandemic has been exhausting for everyone. We’ve all had to make adjustments. I don’t know how much longer we’ll have to endure, but I do know that God will continue to strengthen and feed our faith as we wait. He has been faithful to us in providing us with the riches of His Word. We have even been able to receive the Holy Communion. I am especially thankful for the gift of technology that allows us to meet together for Bible Study and worship. Virtual meetings leave much to be desired, but we have not been left in darkness without a light. The message of God’s grace for sinners—the Gospel—still shines bright, and I am confident it will continue to shine in our hearts and minds as we enter the Fall months.
As I said in my last update, the safety and spiritual well-being of St. John’s are top priorities for me and the Church Council. We’ve made some adjustments, doing what we can with what we have. Each season will have its own unique challenges and opportunities (i.e. weather changes and holidays), and I want to address some adjustments that we will be making for the next handful of weeks.
First, I am excited to announce that we will have a few opportunities to safely worship together outdoors on the back lawn of the church property (the area by the office entrance where I have been holding our private, outdoor Communion services). These outdoor worship services will replace the indoor worship services on those Sundays. Obviously, the weather will be an important factor. If conditions are too severe, I will notify the congregation, and we will simply cancel in-person worship that week and look forward to the next opportunity. Due to appropriate spacing and preparation, we won’t be able to move the service indoors. If the outdoor service is cancelled, we will still have the opportunity to worship together online through our online service on YouTube.
Mark your calendars! The dates and times for our outdoor worship services are:
- Sunday, September 27 at 10:15am
- Sunday, October 11 at 10:15am
- Sunday, October 25 at 10:15am
We will be celebrating the Lord’s Supper at these outdoor services with the use of pre-filled Communion cups that contain unleavened bread and a sip of wine. Many of our sister churches have utilized these pre-filled Communion cups to safely and effectively administer the Lord’s Supper in larger groups. It won’t look or feel like the particular elements you are used to receiving, but it is God’s Word of promise combined with the elements of unleavened bread and wine that make the Lord’s Supper what it is. As Luther writes in the Small Catechism, “These words [‘Given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins’], along with the bodily eating and drinking, are the main thing in the Sacrament. Whoever believes these words has exactly what they say: ‘forgiveness of sins.’” Even if the elements are presented in a slightly different way, God promises to forgive our sins. These pre-filled Communion cups will also give us the chance to do something we’ve never done before: receive the Lord’s Supper simultaneously! We will receive the Body and Blood at the same time. That’s exciting!
Here are the details and safety guidelines for these outdoor worship services:
- A mask or face covering will be needed for the duration of the service. If you do not have a mask or happen to forget it, we will have one on hand. Please do not put anyone in an awkward position by showing up and refusing to wear one.
- Congregants will need to bring their own lawn chairs. Lawn chairs must be set-up at a distance of 6 feet from other congregants. We may have to get creative to accommodate everyone if there is a large enough gathering.
- The Lord’s Supper will be celebrated through pre-filled Communion cups that look like little chalices. Each cup holds a piece of unleavened bread and a sip of wine. These elements will be consecrated during the service, allowing us to safely and effectively celebrate the Lord’s Supper together. I would ask that you hold on to your empty receptacle and rinse it out at home before discarding it.
- A table will be set up somewhere off to the side. It will have a large pump bottle of hand sanitizer, the pre-filled Communion cups, and an offering plate. After setting up your chair, please sanitize your hands, grab a pre-filled Communion cup, and place your offering in the offering plate. Keep a safe distance if you are waiting for others.
- I will email the bulletin for the service as I have been doing every week. You may print your own at home and bring it or use the PDF on your phone/tablet. Otherwise, if you desire a bulletin to follow along, an usher with sanitized hands will hand them out by the table. Please take your bulletin home with you.
- Please take only one pre-filled Communion cup per communicant. We are using them only for the purpose of celebrating the Lord’s Supper together in this particular worship setting under these unique circumstances. They are not to be used at home or shared with others. Please also do not take one if you have not yet been instructed on receiving the Lord’s Supper or are in any way uncomfortable. No one should feel forced to take Communion. You and I can certainly speak privately.
- Upon dismissal, please exit in an orderly, distanced fashion.
I would ask you to please still RSVP for the outdoor worship service. Yes, there will be more room, but I would like to know approximately how many bulletins and pre-filled Communion cups to have prepared. When you RSVP, please let us know how many are going to be in your family/group, and how many are planning on receiving Holy Communion. To RSVP for an outdoor worship service, please call the office (516-742-5858) from 9:00am-Noon the Thursday before the service, just like you would for our indoor services.
The same precautions apply to outdoor worship as they do for indoor worship: if you have developed any symptoms of COVID-19 in the last two weeks (including cough, shortness of breath, fever, chills, sore throat, new loss of taste or smell) or if you have been exposed to someone who has tested positive for COVID-19, please remain at home. Those who are at higher risk from COVID-19 (i.e. those who are older or who have underlying health conditions) must understand that, while outdoor worship will be safer, there are still risks involved. You may still want to stay at home, and that’s certainly OK given the circumstances. I will continue to offer a pre-recorded online worship service with hymns on YouTube at 10:15am on Sunday.
I will also continue to offer outdoor, private Communion services throughout the week. Those services use the contactless dispenser and individual cups. The appointment times will remain the same. You can find those times on our website, or you can contact me for more information.
Second, Diane Jellema and I are going to resume Sunday School. We will host it in-person in the Sanctuary at 9:30am on the Sundays that we are meeting outside for worship. So, our Sunday School will meet on September 27, October 11, and October 25. We will reevaluate and make adjustments to safely and effectively host Sunday School after those dates.
Third, Deacon Charlie Turner will also be resuming his weekly Sunday Morning Bible Study online this Sunday, September 20 at 9:30am using Zoom. If you are signed up for worship, you will have enough time to attend this Bible Study and get to worship. I will send out the Zoom Meeting ID in my Saturday email to the congregation.
Finally, a quick note on Bible Study and Wednesday Night Psalter. Bible Study will remain on Zoom in the Fall. The times have not changed. We continue to meet weekly at 11am on Tuesdays and at 7pm on Thursdays. Please join us! If you would like the Zoom meeting information, email me at email@example.com. Wednesday Night Psalter will continue to be offered at 7:00pm on Facebook Live. All are invited to take just a few minutes of your evening to rest in the appointed Psalm for the upcoming Sunday and join in singing an antiphon. I hope those devotions have been a blessing to you.
That’s the plan for now! Thank you again for your patience, understanding, and support. The light of Jesus Christ will continue to shine in these dark times through the Good News of the forgiveness of sins and the resurrection of the life to come. God will still deliver His grace to us weekly in the Absolution and through the hearing and receiving of His Word. It’s the same grace that is delivered to us in the Lord’s Supper. Our faith rests on the solid foundation of Christ crucified and risen for us sinners. Therefore, even when we have to make unwelcomed adjustments, we remain steadfast in hope and firm in our conviction. We can endure the changes because God is faithful. “Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame” (Romans 10:11).
If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to ask.
Only Because of Jesus,
Pastor Jake Allstaedt
Office: 516.742.5858 | Cell: 253.720.6893 | Email: firstname.lastname@example.org